What's your most audacious intention for 2022? Think big. Think even bigger.
Zen students chant, "Beings are numberless. I vow to save them all." What's your chant?
What if your chant - your intention - is to end greed, hatred, and delusion? What if your intention is to save our beautiful planet? What if it's both? What if it's bigger than both?
Let's see how big it is. Let's see where this goes.
Hi everyone, this is Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 332, on almost-New Years Eve, 2021, of the Gregorian calendar. I’m happy to say that I have a lot to be grateful for about 2021. And it’s been a really hard year, a devastating year for so many. So I’m also ok with saying goodbye to 2021.
I was going to veer off from the Dhammapada today because I wanted to talk about New Years’ intentions, because, of course. But I often notice that the dharma is a sneaky teacher, and for whatever reason, Chapter 13, which is where we are, is called The World, and although I’m sure there are many ways of interpreting the chapter, one is that it’s speaking to intentions.
Last week in Chapter 12, Oneself, was the idea that it’s a good thing, wise, wholesome, to see ourselves as whole, loving, and just needing a little encouragement. Chapter 13, The World, says,
Do not follow an inferior way; don’t live with negligence. Do not follow a wrong view; don’t be engrossed in the world.
Rouse yourself! Don’t be negligent! Live the dharma (or, live mindfully), a life of good conduct. One who does this is happy in this world and the next.
Whoever replaces an evil deed with what is wholesome illuminates the world like the moon set free from a cloud.
No one here is following an inferior way, I think, or we wouldn’t be here together. To the best we can, and also with humility I believe, we’re following a wholesome way, a mindful way.
One way to see if that’s true for you is to recall the intention you set to be here today. It might have happened a minute before the Call or maybe it’s a more general intention to be here as much as possible. Or anything in between. Regardless, it’s a wholesome intention to show up, to sit with likeminded folks, to give yourself the gift of being present.
It could be useful to take a moment, now, to recall how that intention felt. Hopefully it felt good. And to explore further, see if you can determine where in your body it felt good. Maybe the belly, or the chest. Could be anywhere; just see if you can locate it. And if you can, maybe mark it. That way, when you have that sensation again, which could be soon, you’ll know, oh, that’s the sensation of a wholesome intention.
Maybe you also know what an unwholesome intention feels like.
We all say and do unwholesome things. It’s not intentional. It’s that we’re acting habitually. And when we’re acting habitually, there’s a chance that our intentions are less than wholesome, even if we want them to be wholesome. Even if we want them to be, or we want to be able to say they are, the best of intentions.
That’s part of the reason to practice – to see our habits and patterns. When we do that, we see those that once had some importance or were learned from someone we loved or were dependent on, but that no longer serve – that are now unwholesome: dispassion, anger, collapse. And then we can choose what to keep and what to let go of. The more unwholesome habits and patterns we let go of, the less chance of negligently patterning unwholesome intentions from those habits. Sitting quietly, paying attention moment to moment, it’s possible to see which is which, then let go of the unwholesome patterns. Not necessarily easy, but possible.
But that’s only part of the reason to practice. The other part is to see that everyone is the same. We all have unwholesome patterns. Not all of us are diligently paying attention, seeing them, and letting them go. But all of us have them. All of us suffer from this affliction.
And we all just want to be happy, and safe, and free. And our happiness depends on one another. So, to the next verse, rouse yourself! Don’t be negligent! Live the dharma (or, live mindfully), a life of good conduct. One who does this is happy in this world and the next. Meaning, I think, go out and help, because our help, our expertise, our wisdom, our power as legal professionals, is needed. And offering that help, is what will bring happiness, for ourselves, for others, maybe for the planet.
Our help, our expertise, our influence – it’s needed in various forms but mostly it’s needed to speak truth to power. To untangle the impossible knots of our times. To remind our colleagues, our clients, our students, that we belong to one another. To say what’s true, and wise, even though that may be difficult. Even if there may be consequences.
All of which might seem impossible. In fact maybe you‘re shaking your head. It’s a reasonable response. A million times I was afraid to do exactly what I just said. I told clients what they wanted to hear. I did what the senior partners told me to do. I pleased the court.
There are so many times, now, when I’m still afraid.
But I’m not afraid, anymore, to set an impossible goal like speaking the truth. I was going over the curriculum for MLTT 2022 with someone and they observed that it’s an impossible amount to do in nine months. And that’s true! And we’re going to do it anyway. It’s impossible, and we’re setting that intention anyway.
As we head into 2022 – into impossibly knotted times, perilous times, really – can we set impossible intentions? “Beings are numberless, I vow to save them all,” is the Zen chant. Can we have the vision, the huge, unfathomable intention, to end racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, nationalism, and gender discrimination, to dismantle the patriarch, and biggest of all, to repair and heal our beautiful planet? Can we have that, and the self-compassion to fail, and the knowledge we’ll fail, and the devotion to get up the next day and try again?
We are in perilous times. Joanna Macy, the great environmental activist and mindfulness teacher, says we’re either headed towards rolling up our sleeves to save the planet, or cultivating the resilience to be part of a great, global, hospice.
So what if we leave each other today, and leave 2021, with the intention, and a commitment, to do everything we possibly can? To save all of the numberless beings? And as Chapter 13 says, to illuminate the world, like the moon set free from a cloud?